We have spent an extended amount of time looking at some very practical matters in our study in Ephesians 4-6. The reason for this is that true Christian faith leads to a change in values, orientation and behavior. This change in orientation is not the cause of our salvation; it is the result of it. It is something that is brought about by the Holy Spirit living inside of us.
The Holy Spirit changes us in our relationships. The overarching principle is found in Ephesians 5:21: “Submit yourselves to each other out of reverence for Christ.” Christian people are to be givers rather than takers. We are to view and treat others as wonderfully valuable.
Paul has applied this principle to husbands and wives and then to parents and children, and this morning we look at the change in relationship in the workplace. I will explain how I draw that conclusion in a few minutes. First, let’s read the text.
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. 6 Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. 7 Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 8 Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free.
9 Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites. (Eph. 6:5-9)
Anytime this text is read the same question is raised:
Why Didn’t Paul Speak Against Slavery?
There have been some (Pastors included) who have viewed this text as a justification for slavery (mostly in the time before and during the Civil War). Others have viewed this as justification for class distinctions. There are some people today who dismiss the Bible as truly God’s Word because Paul (and others) did not “condemn slavery”.
Slavery was Different. In the world in which Paul was living at the time as many as 1/3 of the people in the Roman Empire were slaves (some have estimated 60 million people). Commentators say that by the time Paul wrote this letter slavery was radically different from what it used to be. Kent Hughes writes,
Slaves under Roman law in the first century could generally count on eventually being set free. Very few ever reached old age as slaves. Slave owners were releasing slaves at such a rate that Augustus Caesar introduced legal restrictions to curb the trend. Despite this, inscriptions indicate that almost 50 percent of slaves were freed before the age of thirty. What is more, while the slave remained his master’s possession he could own property — including other slaves! — and completely controlled his own property, so that he could invest and save to purchase his own freedom.
We also must understand that being a slave did not indicate one’s social class. Slaves regularly were accorded the social status of their owners. Regarding outward appearance, it was usually impossible to distinguish a slave from free persons. A slave could be a custodian, a salesman, or a CEO. Many slaves lived separately from their owners. Finally, selling oneself into slavery was commonly used as a means of obtaining Roman citizenship and gaining an entrance into society. Roman slavery in the first century was far more humane and civilized than the American/African slavery practiced in this country much later. This is a sobering and humbling fact!
The slavery in Paul’s day was much closer to our employer/employee relationships than it was to the slavery that we generally think of. However, there were abuses. People were victimized. So, why didn’t Paul address these facts?
A second consideration is that change takes time. Much of the economic stability of people (including the slaves themselves) was tied to slavery. If slavery were immediately eliminated people would be out of work, could not care for their families and production would be deeply hampered. (Imagine if the law said, “You can no longer have employees because it was thought to diminish people, you can only have business partners”. The result would be that many businesses would close and way too many people would lose their jobs.)
I think Paul understood that the first step to real change in society was to focus on a change in the heart. Paul understood that Christianity rightly applied would lead to great equality and dignity among people. When the human heart changes that person’s values will also change. When values change, people behave and relate to other differently.
Maybe there is a message to us. We cannot legislate change that requires a change of heart and values. We would be better served to give more energy to pointing people to a genuine encounter with Jesus than in railing against the issues of the day. We should continue to push for change but with the understanding that desiring a change in values without a change of heart is futile. Paul was more concerned about winning the war than winning this one battle. That should be our goal also.
How Does the Principle of Mutual Submission Apply on The Job?
There are two wrong views of work:
- Work is a curse and leisure is the meaning of life. In other words, we work so we will get paid and then be able to enjoy life.
- Work is the meaning of life. In other words work is everything. The job, status, titles, income of a person is their measure of worth. The person with the most power is the one who has the most significance. (These people are often the ones who are “working themselves into the ground”.)
The Bible views work as a joy; it’s a way to contribute to the world, and demonstrate honor to the Lord. The Christian desires to honor the Lord in whatever job is given to them.
Paul gives at least four guidelines to those who work for someone else. First he tells them to Do your job. They are to obey their earthly masters. If we translate this to work it would mean: we should do our job. If you agree to do a particular job then you should do what you agreed to do.
This seems obvious but we all know that there are some who have the attitude that they should do the least they can possibly do in order to still get paid. You can see people doing any number of things other than their job while they are “on the clock”. This is dishonest and it is taking advantage of the one who is paying us a salary.
Second, we are to show respect and honor. The Bible tells slaves to serve in “reverent fear”. This is not “fear” in the sense of terror; it means respect. Think about the fear you have for a police officer sitting on the side of the road as you are driving by. Your fear comes from a respect that recognizes the authority the officer has to enforce the law (and a realization that you may be breaking that law).
We are to respect the fact that our employer has authority to terminate our employment. We respect the fact that the person owns the business and carries the responsibility for how the business is run. Practically, this means that we speak to our employer with respect and we should speak about our employer to others with respect. If you are running down your employer, you are not a very good employee since you are representing the business in a bad light.
Third, work for the Lord, not your employer. I don’t mean that you should spend all your time witnessing and sharing the Bible with others. It means that the way we work will either honor or dishonor the Lord. We need to understand that the way we work reveals a great deal about how we view the Lord.
Ask yourself some questions: Is God honored by the way I do my job? Can people see the influence of Christ in my life by the way that I work, by the things that I say, and by the way that I treat those around me? Am I giving God my best or am I giving Him only enough to “get by”?
William Carey was a shoemaker who applied to go out as a foreign missionary. Someone asked him, “What is your business?” meaning to humiliate him, because he was not an ordained minister. Carey answered, “My business is serving the Lord, and I make shoes to pay expenses.” Carey had the right attitude. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states as its first question: “What is the chief end of man? It is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Our job is to glorify God in everything we do. Our place of employment is the platform by which we do this.
The fourth principle is: Be Consistent. Paul tells us to “please them all the time, not just when they are watching you.” Let’s go back to the police officer with the radar gun along the side of the road. A true law-abiding driver is one who obeys the law ALL THE TIME not just when they see a police officer!
Think about a class of students. Let’s say you have a PE class. You tell the kids that they need to run around the gym. They grumble and start running. You have to step out for a couple of minutes. What is going to happen in the class? Many of the students, perhaps even most of the students will stop running and start walking slowly. Some might even stop to visit. They will only run again when the teacher comes back into the gym. Paul says we should be workers who do a good job whether anyone is watching or not.
Who we are when no one else is looking is, quite frankly, who we really are. We can try to sell a certain image of ourselves to others. That is not who we really are. Character and integrity will eventually show itself for what it is. Paul says, “In whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” You may be able to fool your earthly employer but you don’t fool God.
How Does the Principle of Submission Apply to Those in Charge?
Paul doesn’t speak only to the workers; he also speaks to those who are in authority over the workers. In each of these examples (husband and wife, parent and child, and now boss and worker) Paul shows that attitude is important on both sides of the relationship.
To those who have authority over people Paul has some counsel. He begins with the words, “in the same way”. We might say, “In the same way as what?” I believe Paul is saying that this principle of submission and giving of yourself applies in the same way to those who have authority over others. Practically, this means
- Treat those under you with the same respect and dignity that you desire in return.
- Treat those under you as people of value rather than as things you own.
- Realize that the people under you are given to you by God to care for and encourage in their growth in the Lord and in their growth as people.
Paul says, “Don’t threaten them; remember you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites.” I see two more principles here: Show respect for workers and treat them with dignity.
Dennis Bakke who founded a company called AES (Alternative Energy Source) built the company on a different model than most businesses. He writes,
A special workplace has many ingredients. The feeling that you are part of a team, a sense of community, the knowledge that what you do has real purpose—all these things help make work fun. But by far the most important factor is whether people are able to use their individual talents and skills to do something useful, significant, and worthwhile. When bosses make all the decisions, we are apt to feel frustrated and powerless, like overgrown children being told what to do by our parents.
These are good insights. They remind us that treating people with dignity means helping them take pride and ownership in the work that they do. It means putting people in positions where they can succeed and contribute to the work in a significant way. We do this by encouraging people to be part of the process rather than merely imposing rules on them.
Treating people with dignity means we must take the attitude that people are more important that profit. It means paying a fair wage, training people adequately, being supportive in times of personal crisis, and viewing them as part of the team rather than as property you own. Obviously, a business needs to make money in order to stay in business. However, the question is: is our drive for profit coming at the expense of the dignity and value of the people who work for us?
Paul says we need to remember that we both have the same Master in heaven. Paul reminds employers that God does not play favorites. He does not rank people by title or income level. He does not view people in terms of the power they wield. Since God does not view us this way, we should not view the people who work for us in that way.
Let’s suppose you are a manager over a large plant. Someone makes a big mistake. You are about to rub that person’s nose in the mistake when someone says, “Be careful, remember that that person is the boss’s daughter.” Will that change your tone and the words you choose? Will you adopt the attitude of teacher rather than disciplinarian? Most likely you will. The point Paul is making is this: the people who work for us are the sons and daughters of God most High!
If you have authority over others one of the biggest challenges is not “lording it over others”. You have a job to do. However one of your biggest jobs is to encourage and motivate those who work under you. The best way to do that is to show people that they have value in your eyes and that their contribution really does make a difference.
I hope you have seen that Paul has been operating from a simple premise: a person who truly decides to follow Christ will relate to people differently than one who has not turned to Christ. Having been recipients of an undeserved grace, we will seek more and more to extend that grace to others. This is true whether it is a wife to her husband, a husband to his wife, a child to their parents, or a parent toward his child, an employee toward their employer or the way an employer treats those who work for them. Christianity that does not have a practical effect is not genuine Christianity.
I hope you have been attracted to the kind of relationships Paul talks about in our text.
The first step to a better relationship with those around you is to address your relationship with God. Instead of arguing that God “owes you” because you are such a decent person, you need to see that if God gave you what you truly deserve, you would spend eternity in Hell! Instead of arguing with God, we must begin by bowing before Him asking for the mercy that He offers us through Jesus. Our Lord paid the price for our rebellious and stubborn ways. We will not and cannot be right with God apart from what Jesus has done for us. We do not earn salvation, we receive it.
Once we become a recipient of grace; once we know that we have been delivered from death to life due to nothing we have done; we will be able to drop that sense of superiority that poisons relationships. We will discover what it means to be loved for who we are and not for what we have produced. Once we experience this love, we will be able to start seeing others as those in need of love. We will relate to each other with compassion rather than arrogance; with dignity rather than superiority; with grace rather than with power. And when that happens we will see other people change. And once people begin to change we hopefully will also see that many of the things that really need to be changed in our world will change not because of our complaining . . . but because of His grace.